Maths whizzkids compete to answer 200 questions in eight minutes

Armed with abacuses, children aged between four and 12 tested their speed, accuracy and calculating skills as they raced against time at the 11th Universal Concept of Mental Arithmetic System competition in Dubai.

A total of 1,500 children, mainly from Indian schools in Dubai, participated in the maths challenge on Friday. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // Two hundred arithmetic problems in eight minutes. That was the task facing 1,500 pupils who had gathered from across the Emirates on Friday morning at Al Nasr Leisureland in Dubai.

Armed with abacuses, the whizz-kids, aged between 4 and 12, tested their speed, accuracy and calculating skills as they raced against time to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers at the 11th Annual National Abacus and Mental Arithmetic Competiton.

The youngsters, predominantly from Indian schools, furiously battled with each other in two sessions, each with 750 participants, to solve problems in seconds.

Depending on their age, they were divided into eight categories and given questions. A group of 200 pupils from the 1,500 later took a rigorous listening test.

Students said the arithmetic training – the Universal Concept of Mental Arithmetic System (Ucmas) – which involved the use of an abacus to calculate faster, made their minds sharper.

“It helps me in my studies,” said Anil Samanta, 9, who has aced these annual tests for the past four years.

“It has helped improve my memory, which is important while learning concepts,” said the Grade 5 pupil at Delhi Private School, Sharjah. He was crowned one of the 27 grand champions yesterday.

Anil and the other pupils have been training at Ucmas coaching centres across the UAE, which focus on brain development through arithmetic.

The competition was only for pupils at Ucmas’s 30 UAE centres, which each run a two-hour after-school class each week. Ucmas has its headquarters in Malaysia.

“Ours is a skill-development programme,” said Soundari Raj, managing director of Ucmas UAE. “We believe all children are geniuses but they need someone to discover the genius within.”

About 100 instructors were at the venue to mark the pupils. Mrs Raj said each tutor took about a minute to correct a paper.

The managing director, whose centre trains 7,000 children a year, said their programmes did not focus only on problem solving.

“We make children ready to face life. We try to teach them listening skills, comprehend concepts, improve their memory, presentation skills, speed, accuracy and creativity. We prepare them for life using arithmetic,” she said.

In yesterday’s competition, unsurprisingly, not everyone managed to solve all 200 problems.

“I managed 160 questions,” said Kakarla Hasith, a Grade 5 pupil at Sharjah Indian School. “Last time, I did 125 questions. I did more this time.”

Kakarla said the abacus mental-arithmetic coaching had helped to sharpen his memory and he could “remember more things now”.

He said that his parents had encouraged him to enrol in the weekly classes. Another pupil said she was thrilled she had managed to finish 96 questions in the limited time.

“It was easy,” said Hanieh Khalid, a Grade 4 student at Abu Dhabi International Community School.

“I feel happy,” said the nine-year-old Palestinian, who conceded that 200 questions was a “bit too much” for young minds like hers.

A number of parents had also gathered to cheer their children.

One of them was Aparna Mull, whose two daughters were participating in the contest.

“As a parent, you want your kids to be on top of everything,” she said. “The competition is all about mental challenge, pushing them and giving them an edge.

“It’s not about winning, but doing their best.”

Another parent said his 10-year-old son Safwan had been acing these tests every year.

“He won four consecutive tests,” said Abdul Manaf, whose son was now participating for the fifth time.

“The training has improved his concentration and competence. The tests make outstanding students perform even better.”